PITTSBURG — Pittsburg State head baseball coach Tom Myers has been preaching to his team if they play the game the right way, good things will follow.
Pittsburg State’s come-from-behind 10-9 win in extra innings over Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday embodied that sentiment to the fullest extent.
“More than anything, these kinds of wins build character,” Myers said. “They are also opportunities for coaches to prove points, that if we play the game the right way, and our players are playing at a pretty high level mentally, it gives them these opportunities to win games because they are earning it by staying locked in for an entire day.”
Tied at 9-9 all heading into the last of the 10th, PSU’s Dallas Reed led off with a walk. Logan Terrell followed with a sacrifice bunt to move Reed over to second, but the throw from the Loper third baseman across the diamond short-hopped to first, allowing Reed to advance to third, with Terrell reaching safely. With the ball still at first base, Reed and Myers noticed UNK had no one covering home, giving Reed the opportunity to sprint to the plate and score the walk-off run.
“Something we really focus on in practice is being aware of where the fielders are when we are on base,” Reed said. “Coach Myers was the first one to notice no one was covering the plate, then I picked up on it and he sent me home.”
The win marks the fifth straight for the Gorillas (17-22, 11-14 MIAA), who also finished off the three-game sweep of the Lopers on Saturday.
“It’s really good for us to start playing this well late in the season,” Reed said. “It was nice getting a sweep right there after such a hard-fought game by both teams. Going into the last stretch of the season, this puts us in a good spot to make a run at the conference tournament.”
With 11 games remaining, including the next four at home, Pitt State sits at 10th in the MIAA standings, needing to climb at least two spots to get into the eighth and final seed of the conference tournament.
Pitt State trailed 8-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth in need of a lift, which they would shortly get after plating six runs to take its first lead of the day.
Colton Pogue tripled to right-center field to start the frame, and Hunter Clanin followed with an RBI single up the middle to score the first run.
Later in the inning, the Gorillas were down to their last out with runners at second and third when Cole Brecheisen came up with a pinch-hit single through the left side to plate both runners and make the score 8-6, with Brecheisen ending up on second on a throwing error by the UNK left fielder.
Sticking with the right-on-left matchup, Myers called for another left-handed pinch hitter, this time it was Brock Zanca.
Zanca came through and kept the two-out rally alive with a single up the middle to score Brecheisen and trim the lead to one, 8-7.
“It’s a credit to our pinch hitters,” Myers said. “It’s easy to sit back and think, ‘I’m not playing, or I’m not getting the opportunities,’ but when guys have decided they can define their role, and these guys are doing that, it gives me the freedom and comfort to grab anybody at any given time if I think the matchup is right. That’s a luxury most coaches don’t have, so I am lucky to have everyone on this team doing their part.”
Capping off the inning in exciting fashion, like he did at the end of the game, Reed stepped into the box and quickly deposited a ball over the wall in left field for a two-run home run to give Pitt State a 9-8 advantage.
“On a day like today, with the wind blowing out, you’re never out of a game,” Reed said. “We got huge pinch-hit at-bats from Brecheisen and Brock to extend that inning. To get those hits off the bench is a massive momentum swing.”
UNK’s Easton Edmond tied the game in the top of the eighth with an RBI double, setting up the walk-off finish in the 10th.
The Gorillas’ bullpen came up big once again, which has been a theme over the duration of the winning streak, as Ty Rowe, Cody Whiting and Cooper Gardner combined to allow two runs over the final seven innings of play.
“Those guys were pretty efficient within their first four outs, which gave them a chance to get to their fifth and sixth outs, and maybe a couple more,” Myers said. “They stepped in, kept us where we needed to be and gave us a chance to come back.”
GORILLAS ON THE MOUND
Cort Lesmeister earned the start and got the no-decision on the mound, allowing seven runs on seven hits, a walk and three strikeouts in 2.2 innings.
Rowe worked 2.1 innings in relief, allowing one run on two hits and a strikeout, with Whiting allowing one run on three hits, a walk and three strikeouts in 2.1 innings.
Gardner (6-1) earned the win, blanking the Lopers over the final 2.2 innings, striking out three without allowing a hit or walk.
GORILLAS AT THE PLATE
Pogue went 2-for-3, with a home run and a triple, a team-high three runs scored, an RBI and two walks.
Andrew Vogelbaugh went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double, two runs scored and an RBI.
Reed had a home run, two runs scored and two RBIs.
T.J. Martin, Ethan Schlesener, Clanin, Brecheisen and Zanca all recorded hits in the win.
LOPERS ON THE MOUND
Weston Glienke (3-1) took the loss in relief, allowing one unearned run over the final two innings of play. He didn’t allow a hit, walked two and struck out four.
Derek Clausen earned the start and went 2.2 innings. He allowed three runs, one earned, on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts.
LOPERS AT THE PLATE
Dallas Schramm homered, scored three times and drove in one in his 3-for-5 day.
Billy Hayes went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored.
Edmond had two hits in four at-bats, driving in a team-high four runs and scoring once.
Pitt State hosts Missouri Southern State (21-21, 13-15 MIAA) for a 6 p.m. matchup on April 18 at Al Ortolani Field. The Lions currently hold the eighth spot in the MIAA Conference standings.
-- Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.